‘Ad Astra’ Movie Review: An Unforgettable Interstellar Odyssey

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After watching James Gray’s latest film, Ad Astra, he most certainly did not disappoint. With gorgeous visuals, powerful performances, and thoughtful messages to remember it by, this film offers a unique and original experience that is hard to come by nowadays. Like driving through a decorated neighborhood during Christmas and feeling awe while looking at the Christmas lights; this is what I felt while watching Ad Astra.

In the story, Brad Pitt’s character is an astronaut named Roy McBride, whom we see as being a stoic, calm, and collected professional. While he is highly honored and respected, his flaw of putting his job before everything else causes his loved ones to leave him, including his wife. From there, he has a mission to seek out and destroy the Lima Project, a space mission tasked with finding intelligent life stationed by Neptune and bringing back Roy’s father, Clifford McBride. He must do so before anti-matter power surges that are coming from the station destroy all life in the Solar System. From there, we see Roy go through trials and tribulations that will both mesmerize and terrify you; plummeting towards Earth from the edge of the atmosphere, battling space pirates on the Moon, and nearly going insane from weeks of isolation during his extensive, arduous voyage are just a few of the edge-of-your-seat moments in this movie. This is all held rigidly together with a stunning performance by Brad Pitt, whose moments of stoicism, contrasted with brief outbursts of emotion, really emphasizes his range.

Even if someone had no idea what the story was about, they would still praise how beautiful the movie looked. After all, any big-budget film set in the deep expanses of outer space is bound to have some breathtaking cinematography. I would always get a euphoria-like sense whenever a scene showed a space shuttle or planet blanketed by the dark shadow of the cosmos. Sometimes, the whole theater would shake or whenever a massive space shuttle would cover the camera with the fire and smoke of a lift-off. One scene, in particular, showed Roy alone out in space, with the camera shot making him out to be a little speck in the center of the screen amid nothing but blackness and stars. Watching this, I couldn’t help but feel tiny and intimidated by the grand scale of it all.

Another aspect of this film I would congratulate it on would be its subtle world-building. With the setting being the near future, space exploration has become ever more prevalent. In the movie, space shuttles are now able to travel to the edges of the solar system, with commercial flights to the Moon offered, and tales of past intergalactic wars told. All of this made me feel fully immersed in the universe that the movie built up. It can also feel painfully realistic: the film shows how, even with an advanced city built on the Moon, we will make it exactly like Earth.

*Warning: Minor spoilers below*

Finally, the element that impacted me the most would be its thought-provoking themes of isolation, family bonds, and the human condition. Throughout the movie, Roy does things that demonstrate his tendency to isolate himself from others and be solely focused on his mission, sometimes to a fault. Complementing the setting and subject matter, the emptiness of space only adds to the deafening silence and loneliness that would make anyone feel like they are going crazy along with Roy, especially in the scenes where he is truly alone. There is also the implication that Roy has a deeply conflicted relationship with his father, narrating to himself how his thoughts turn from rage to sadness and confusion whenever his father comes to mind. When the confrontation between father and son finally comes, Roy finds out that his father has lost sight of what truly matters and, in his ambition, has lost all he ever had. It is here where he has to come to peace with his father and let his emotions go. All of this leads to Roy coming to the revelation that we, as humans, must live for, love, and rely on each other to truly fulfill our purpose on Earth.

While this film is much slower than your average action-packed, sci-fi blockbuster, it ends up being a slow burn that is surprisingly sweet and profound. I truly recommend this to those who are willing to give these kinds of films a chance and be able to leave with something special to think about. For me, it is that the key to our happiness and fulfillment lies not in the distant cosmos, but here on Earth with those who love and care about us.